Presidential in Brazil: meeting the last faithful of Jair Bolsonaro

Darkness falls gently over Rio and, for the majority of Cariocas who want to avoid bad encounters, it sounds like a return home. At the Church of the Assembly-of-God-Victory-in-Christ, in the Penha district, in the north of the city, it is however the effervescence. In the parking lot of the building, cars make their way somehow. On the rear windshields of vehicles, election posters to the glory of the presidential party. And in the hands of those who descend from it, Bibles as thick as a directory.

Inside the huge building that looks like a concert hall with giant screens and an orchestra, some are already meditating, kneeling, head turned towards the back of their seat. A fortnight ago, their hero was in their place. Jair Bolsonaro in person, came to pray in this Pentecostal lair where officiates his gray eminence, the wealthy patron of this church which never stops growing, Pastor Silas Malafaia.

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Preceded in the polls by Lula

On this Tuesday evening, the master of the place is not there. The one who replaces him, though talkative, does not say a word about the approaching presidential election. No need. Malafaia, always quick to weave the praises of his friend president, did the up-front work. “ Of course I will vote for him thunders Victor, a 28-year-old tattooed colossus who has been attending the church for three years. And to recite the breviary of the perfect Bolsonarist: “ He alone can defend the family, the homeland, order and protect us from these gender ideologies that we would like to impose on children at school, from abortion, from moral drift. Karine, in her forties, recites the same arguments. She remains convinced that since the knife attack from which the far-right leader escaped in 2018, the “Very High” has taken him under his wing. ” He can’t lose “, she repeats.

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But one week before the first round of the ballot, divine protection resists badly to the test of the polls. Invariably, they place the incumbent president far behind his main competitor, the returning Lula. Fourteen points separate them today (47% against 33%). The leader of the workers’ party (PT, left) can even hope to win next Sunday.

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Of course, for Bolsonaro supporters, the pollsters, including one of the country’s most respected was assaulted this week in São Paulo, are lying. Like most other media. “ They are gauchiopaths sums up Silas Malafaia who, having returned from a trip, receives us in his luxurious office. And then, ” Jair Bolsonaro is impressive, he has such energy “. He adds : “It is thanks to the discipline he acquired when he was a soldier.»

He can’t lose!

However, the evidence is there. The sexist, homophobic, racist and warmongering provocations of the Trump of the tropics are no longer as popular. Nor do the populist rhetoric of the man alone, battling against the establishment and the institutions, work. His methodical unraveling of Lula’s social heritage and the ultra-liberal economic shift ended up cutting him off from a good part of the impoverished and working middle classes. Looking back on it, Robert dos Santos still wonders how he, the child of the favelas, could have let himself be caught up in the sirens.fascistsby Bolsonaro four years ago. “This vote is my dark side“, explains, embarrassed, the young man of 22 years, sitting in the room which adjoins the miserable nail salon of his mother. “The security he promised us came down to raids where we normal people took the stray bullets.The fight against corruption, his other major project, got bogged down as business caught up with his sons. And there was this calamitous management of the pandemic, where he in turn mocked the masks, then the vaccines, “who transformed into crocodiles– 680,000 Brazilians have died from Covid.

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In recent weeks, pushed by his advisers, Jair Bolsonaro has tried to moderate his speech. But nothing helps. Even the recent measures to counter inflation – lowering the price of gasoline and increasing social benefits for the poorest – have had no effect on public opinion. “You talk, it’s really taking us for morons to offer us this before the election,storm Carlos Magno, a former caregiver converted into an Uber driver.Bolsonaro is the candidate of the rich, those of Ipanema. Me, for the first time in my life, I haven’t had enough to eat in the last few weeks.Like him, 33.1 million Brazilians out of the country’s 214 million currently suffer from hunger. That’s a 70% increase since 2020.

Bolsonaro only speaks to his bubble

But this figure too, the bolsonarists dispute it. Deny again and again reality. “In fact, Bolsonaro now only speaks to his bubble,says Rafael Soares Gonçalves, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio.That of the three Bs, the Bible, the ox and the bullets.» Understand the evangelical networks, the agribusiness lobbies and the pro-weapons movements which, in 2018, brought him to power. And who, today, do not imagine their herald disappearing from the scene.

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Niterói, dormitory town separated by a bridge from Rio. This is where Rildo Anjos, a former soldier with a rough face, opened his armory in 2014. He too is a fervent defender of the leader of the liberal party. And for good reason. Until he came to power, his business was struggling. And then the president liberalized access to weapons. Result: more than 50% in turnover since 2018. The business has become a frightening gold mine in a country nevertheless plagued by homicides: in June 2020, Brazil had 1,862 firearms stores, they are nearly 3,000 today. Now, 4.4 million weapons circulate there and shooting clubs have increased in four years from 159 to more than 2,000.

Rildo Anjos has his stand at the back of the store. Luciano, a shy 59-year-old dentist, tries his hand at handling a Taurus G3. “I hope I never have to use it,he stammers, having emptied his magazine on a target.I have a somewhat lost property in the state of Rio and I want to protect myself.“He too will slip a Bolsonaro bulletin on Sunday, to preserve”freedom, family and Christian values. And so we can keep our weapons“. Rildo Anjos, the boss, opines: “An armed people can never be a slave people.»​

Bolsonaro does not have the institutional tools to go very far

The right to force and no longer just the force of law. The concept does not appeal only to lovers of the trigger but also to the military and especially to the police who have become “most important supportof the president in place according to Rafael Soares Gonçalves. It has also become a political force. The NGO Brazilian Forum for Public Security estimates the number of uniformed candidates registered for the October 2 poll at 1,888, a 29% increase from 2018.

Fear of contesting the results

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Uelison Russão and his colleague Serginho are among them. Military policeman and federal policeman, they present themselves to the deputation of the State of Rio under the banner of a formation allied to that of the far-right leader. If they formulate some reproaches against him, in particular the non-restructuring of their institution, they share with him this nostalgia for the military dictatorship which ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.Moreover, it was not a dictatorship but a period of freedom where order and security reigned,Uelison breathes.Leftists call it dictatorship.And if these leftists they curse win at the end of this presidential election? “We are democrats, we will accept it“replies the military policeman. “Still it is necessary that the vote is not rigged», Corrects his sidekick.

Because here is the danger that surrounds this election: the contestation of the results, a questioning of the democratic process. For months, Jair Bolsonaro has accused the electronic voting system of failures. For months, he has been preparing the ground, claiming that he will win in the first round and that any contrary result would be cheating. The scenario is necessarily reminiscent of the one put in place by Donald Trump in 2020. “The context is flammable and things will surely happen,says Professor Rafael Soares Gonçalves.But I also believe that Bolsonaro does not have the institutional tools to go very far.To prevent any attempt at destabilization, Lula is said to have secretly asked the Americans to quickly recognize the results. A request that Washington would have accepted. But Silas Malafaia, the guru pastor, warns: “If fraud is observed, then there will be indignation, probably demonstrations.It’s a safe bet that his flock will participate.

Presidential in Brazil: meeting the last faithful of Jair Bolsonaro